Attorneys for Michael Politte, who was convicted at age 14 of killing his mother, on Wednesday asked the Missouri Supreme Court to free him after more than 22 years behind bars, citing now-disproven evidence, a faulty investigation and a flawed trial defense.
Rita Politte was burned to death inside her mobile home in Hopewell, Missouri, in 1998. Politte, now 37, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison after being tried as an adult. He is housed at the Jefferson City Correctional Center.
The Missouri Court of Appeals in September refused to hear the case, prompting the request to the state Supreme Court.
“Rita Politte deserves justice,” the court filing states. “But she is not the only victim here. Her family, including her then 14-year-old, now grown, son Michael, are also victims of the State’s failure to properly investigate and prosecute her murderer, not to mention their knowing misconduct. This Court can finally bring peace to this family.”
In addition to asking that Politte be freed, his attorneys are seeking an evidentiary hearing or appointment of a special master to investigate the case.
“Most basically, we believe Mike should be freed because he was convicted on the basis of false evidence,” Politte's attorney, Megan Crane, said in a phone interview. “Everyone knows it's false. Even the state admits it's false.”
But efforts to free Politte have failed because the state's judicial system “values finality over fairness,” Crane said.
A spokesman for Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt declined comment.
Politte said in a statement in August that he ended up in prison due to a judicial system “overseen by flawed human beings" who "do not want to admit that they wrongfully convicted a 14-year-old for murdering his own mother.”
The petition said Politte and a friend were sleeping when they awoke to smoke in the early hours of Dec. 5, 1998. Politte said he found his mother's burning body in her bedroom as he and the friend tried to escape. She also suffered blunt force head trauma.
Fire investigators said the fire was started with gasoline and investigators determined Michael Politte had gasoline on his shoes — the only physical evidence linking him to the crime.
But the court filing said the findings were based on now-discredited fire investigation techniques. It said the state now concedes that Politte did not have gas on his shoes.
The petition said investigators ignored other potential suspects, including Politte's father, who was going through a difficult divorce with Rita Politte.
Politte's attorneys said the public defender who handled his trial presented only a half-day of testimony from three witnesses, called no experts to debunk the fire and gasoline evidence, and declined to call as a witness the friend who was in the house, who has long stood by Politte's account of what happened.